[Content Warning: This show and review discusses sexual assault, suicide and systemic child abuse]
Ten minutes prior to the show, Frank Hampster is on stage, anxious to begin. I’m not sure if the Elephant & Wheelbarrow room has a backstage, but get the sense that Frank would be out here anyway, chatting amicably with the early arrivals. He talks about the footy, and provides his own content warning – there will be a joke at Richmond’s expense in tonight’s show. He also mentions that a private investigator has been following him lately, and that lawyers, harassers and spooks are simply a part of his life now.
As Frank recounts, he invited this particular investigator into his home for a cup of tea, and asked him to deliver a message to his employers: “George Pell, go fuck yourself.”
The Cardinal Sins Again takes on a truly difficult subject, wringing dark humour out of the systemic rape and abuse of children by Ballarat priests in the 1980s. Between endearing childhood anecdotes and harrowing statistics about Catholic horniness, Frank offers a savage critique of the Church and the power it wields, asking how – in the wake of Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – we can prevent this sort of atrocity from ever occurring again.
The show itself is brutally honest, engaging and at times confronting. Frank is a sharp and gifted comedian, skewering the pompous buffoonery of the clergy with ease. His onstage persona switches from one moment to the next – a single joke can see him cycling through the roles of larrikin bloke, informed activist, detached essayist, disciplined ex-soldier and so forth. While these shifts in tone can be jarring, they help to draw the audience in to Frank’s unique perspective, creating a tension that helps underscore the absurdity and anguish of his story. You may find yourself in stunned silence for much of this story, until one of Frank’s wickedly well-crafted punchlines moves you to a fit of relieved laughter.
There are one or two jokes that rely quite heavily on the inherent shock value of the subject matter. A riff on whether certain terms are euphemisms for ‘raping children’ is highly relevant, but runs slightly overlong. However, this break in the show’s flow is perhaps necessary, since the subject matter is indeed shocking. After decades of televised scandal and five years of Royal Commission hearings, the worrying fact is that audiences may have simply gotten ‘used to’ hearing about the actions of paedophiles, overlooking the traumatic consequences of these actions. In The Cardinal Sins Again, Frank Hampster delivers a hilarious shock to the system, reminding audiences that these issues are unresolved, and our attention is needed.
The Cardinal Sins Again is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from 29 March until 9 April, no show on Monday. It’s being performed at the Elephant & Wheelbarrow, and tickets range between $15 – $20. Head to the festival website to buy tickets & get accessibility information.
You can also read Til Knowles’ interview with Frank Hampster here.